Scarcely a week goes by without a study on gender differences in the brain making headlines. “Female brains really ARE different to male minds,” reported the Mail Online on July 28, while a day later Salon framed the same research as “Women are getting smarter faster than men.” The tired old Mars-Venus debates play out simplistically in the media, like a never-ending tug-of-war, while feminists and anti-feminists alike rage, celebrate, or down their blood-pressure medication, depending on whose side has been thrown the bigger scientific-breakthrough bone.
In the early 2000s, when I was a burgeoning fashionable fat girl, I stumbled across the LiveJournal community Fatshionista. I loved seeing pictures of women my size or larger dressed in stylish, interesting, sexy clothes, embracing bright colors and form-fitting cuts, performing liberation and defiance. Even while I stayed on the outskirts of body positivity during my high school and college years, I still found a well of confidence and self-esteem that television commercials and women’s magazines never offered me.
In May of this year, comedian Sarah Baker garnered a lot of attention for the monologue her character, Vanessa, delivered at the end of an episode of Louie. Vanessa asks Louie (Louis C.K.), point blank, why men hate fat girls so much. “What is it about the basics of human happiness, feeling attractive, feeling loved, having guys chase after us, that’s just not in the cards for us?” she asked.
At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, I once went through a bisexual stage.
I was a teenager, and I tried on the label as a way to describe my affection outside of prescribed definitions of love and lust. But like the too-small shoes I’d wear before I came across affordable size 12s, the identity was ill-fitting.
“I can’t compete with an Asian chick,” says the comedian Amy Schumer. When a busty, blue-eyed blond—a type that launched a thousand wet dreams—admits she can’t contend with Asian women, it signals a certain shift in our culture’s preferred sexual tastes.
More than a decade before Maureen “Moe” Shea was Hilary Swank’s sparring partner in Million Dollar Baby, she was struggling just to get a jab in. “There were gyms that closed the door in my face,” says the now 33-year-old featherweight champion. “One person said, ‘Boxing is for people who’ve been in jail. You should be at home baking pies.’”
We are the fighters. We are the women who don’t take shit from no man.
We are the women with the sharp tongues and hands firmly on hips. We are the ride-or-die women. We are the women who have, like Sojourner Truth, “plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head us.” We are the sassy chicks. We are the mothers who make a way out of no way. On TV, we are the no-nonsense police chiefs and judges. We are the First Ladies with the impressive guns.
The only time any teacher talked about birth control at my rural Idaho high school was in a home economics class. I took the class, called Parenting Skills and Child Development, mostly to plug a hole in my schedule that semester. Well into college, whenever I mentioned that I took a parenting class in high school, people would almost reflexively snicker: Isn’t parenting a set of skills everybody should just have? My sophomore-year roommate said, “I just think of classes like that as classes for idiots,” and went on to snark that we needed more classes telling people how to avoid becoming parents in the first place.
For a long time, Vietnamese food made me uncomfortable. It was brothy, weirdly fishy, and full of the gross animal parts that other people didn’t seem to want. It was too complicated.
I wanted the straightforward, prefabricated snacks that I saw on television: Bagel Bites, Pop-Tarts, chicken nuggets. When my grandmother babysat me, she would make tiny concessions, preparing rice bowls with chopped turkey cold cuts for me while everyone else got caramelized pork. I would make my own Bagel Bites by toasting a normal-size bagel and topping it with Chinese sausage and a dash of Sriracha. My favorite snack was a weird kind of fusion: a slice of nutrient-void Wonder Bread sprinkled with a few dashes of Maggi sauce, an ultraplain proto–banh mi that I came up with while rummaging through my grandmother’s pantry. In our food-centric family, I was the barbarian who demanded twisted simulacra of my grandmother’s masterpieces, perverted so far beyond the pungent, saucy originals that they looked like the national cuisine of a country that didn’t exist.